In the previous post in our "Mississippi Churning" series, we noted U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate's baffling determination to rely on Mississippi state law regarding bribery rather than federal law.
We wondered if perhaps federal law in the Fifth Judicial Circuit was somehow unclear on the elements of bribery. But we found one Fifth-Circuit case that seemed abundantly clear. Now we've found a Fifth-Circuit case that seems to be even more clear than U.S. v. Tomblin, the case we cited earlier.
The Tomblin case involved a charge under 18 U.S. Code 201, which generally is used in cases involving bribery of federal officials. Now we have U.S. v. Duvall, 846 F. 2d 966 (1988), which involves 18 U.S. Code 666, the same statute cited in the Minor case and the law that generally involves non-federal officials. For good measure, Duvall originated in Mississippi, just like the Minor case.
We've noted that Wingate seemed to go out of his way to find a jury instruction on bribery that did not require a quid pro quo. And he found it in Mississippi state law. He certainly was not going to find it in Fifth-Circuit federal law.
What did the Fifth Circuit have to say in Duvall?
"By definition a bribe is money or favor bestowed on or promised to a person in a position of trust to pervert his judgment or influence his conduct; it is something that serves to induce or influence. Bribery occurs when a gift to a government official is coupled with a particular intent and connotes some more or less specific quid pro quo for which the gift or contribution is offered or accepted. . . . Thus the distinguishing characteristic of a bribe . . . is not that it damages the public because it causes the giver to demand a higher price from the government but because it subverts a government official's loyalty and judgment."
Hard to be more clear than that? Bribery in the Fifth Circuit requires a quid pro quo. So why did Judge Wingate's jury instructions not read that way?
And that brings us back to our earlier question about Judge Wingate and the Paul Minor trial: Was he incompetent or was he corrupt?